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Doctor offers tips for aging optimally; good advice for Kentuckians, who rank 49th in senior health


As life expectancy for both men and women keeps rising, it’s important to adopt a handful of healthy habits that include things like exercising and staying social to ensure that you “age optimally.”

That was the main message of Dr. Christian Furman, a geriatric physician from Louisville, on an episode of “Kentucky Health” with Dr. Wayne Tuckson on Kentucky Educational Television, Patrick Reed reports for KET.

Furman is interim chief of internal medicine, palliative medicine and medical education at the University of Louisville. She is also medical director of U of L’s Institute for Sustainable Health and Optimal Aging.

She told Tuckson that while “geriatric” applies officially to those age 65 and older, the field of geriatrics provides much of its expertise around what she called the “older old,” those over 80. She added that most people can stay with their primary care physician until they are 75, but should consider switching over to a geriatric physician at that age.

As for tips on living a long life, Furman said her advice is to adhere to the habits that are responsible for good health in general. She also noted that those who follow a healthy lifestyle during their youth and middle age are more likely to have a high quality of life during their senior years.

Here are her tips for “optimal aging” as reported by Reed:

• Exercise: She said, “You don’t have to do major exercise, just move,” which she said could involve walking around the neighborhood.

• Follow a well-balanced diet: This means eating a diet that is low in red meat, avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol, and eating more fruits and vegetables.

• Eliminate tobacco use.

• Adhere to only moderate alcohol intake.

• Stay socially engaged: Furman says research shows that social isolation has negative health effects. “It’s like smoking 15 cigarettes a day, which is a lot of cigarettes,” she says.

• Yearly physicals and preventive screenings: Furman encouraged seniors to keep up with their yearly doctor’s visits and preventive screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopies.

• Regularly re-visit the need for each of your medications: “There is research that shows, the more medications you take, the more problems you will have,” she said. “About five or six is the tipping point. Once you get to six medicines, you will have more side effects and adverse drug reactions and problems.”

Overall, Furman encouraged older folks to continue doing everything that they have always done that brings them pleasure and fulfillment, if they are able to — including sexual relations, Reed writes.

“You want people to be sexually active,” she said. “Sometimes sexual activity is different for different people, sometimes it’s cuddling, being intimate through skin contact. Sometimes the actual intercourse is hard for older people, but it doesn’t have to be.”

Furman said the goal is to keep older folks as functionally independent as they can for as long as they can, recognizing that they will not be able to function at the same pace or intensity as they did when they were younger, Reed reports.

“They should still do the things they love, but take a rest,” Furman said. “Sit, recuperate, and get up and do it again. They can still cook dinner, or decorate for the holidays. But for people who used to decorate three rooms, three Christmas trees – well, just do one room, and one Christmas tree. Everything in moderation. It’s really very individualized, but it’s totally not based on their age.”

All of this advice is especially important for Kentucky seniors, who are among some of the most unhealthy seniors in the nation. According to the most recent America’s Health Rankings Report, Kentucky ranks 49th for seniors’ health and has been in the bottom 10 states for this measure since 2013, the first year AHR did the report.

By 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that one in every five people in the United States will be 65 or older and by 2035 older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.

From Kentucky Health News


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